Tomorrow people across the country will go to the polls and select the next cadre of leaders for our great nation. As a former campaign junkie — I’ve worked as communications director on two congressional and two gubernatorial races, as well as odd jobs on every election since 1998 — I thought I’d offer my insight into the final days of a campaign from a staffer’s perspective. We’re a rather neurotic group, so it ain’t pretty, but from my experience here’s what happens.
First, nearly everyone who has worked on the campaign for more than the last month or two will both look and act like something from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” minus the fancy dance moves. We are burned out. Beyond burned out. If you try talking to us we will look in your direction, struggle mightily to comprehend the sounds we hear you making, and then say something back we hope relates in at least in some distant way to what you just said. Typically our unconscious comprehended the question, and unless it relates to something not campaign related (like, “How are you?”) we can usually give an intelligent answer — but only because by this point the campaign has taken over all of our brain cells (save those we need to move beer from a bottle to our mouths).
Having lived and breathed the race for what seems like several lifetimes, something about feeling the end at hand causes staffers to want the whole thing to just get done with already. You know how the general public gets fatigued with all the political stuff? Well, multiply that by a bajillion and you’ve got a taste of how it feels on the inside.
Luckily, the final days of a (close) race see people from across the country descend from on high to lend their expertise — and energy — for the final push to the finish. More importantly, the massive inflow of volunteers who truly believe the world will become a better place if your candidate wins inspire those of us who lack the energy and enthusiasm we started with. They are the ones who power us through to do our jobs and do them well those last few days.
So we do. We work our tails off like we’ve never worked before. With every fiber of our being and with the last remnants of our soul we pour everything we have into that long, last, grueling fait accompli. We swear we will never, ever do this again.
The election ends. One candidate stands victorious, the other not so much. Congratulations go around among the staff, from the candidate, to the candidate, to the other side, from the other side — after all, no one else knows, I mean really knows, what you’ve gone through like your opponent and their staff. Despite the bad feelings and occasionally even the hatred generated over the course of a campaign, like Rommel in North Afrika you still share a sense of camaraderie and respect for the other side.
Unless it’s a blowout. Then you just hate the bastards who schooled you so badly.
Either way, win or lose, the day after a campaign leaves a gaping hole in the hearts of campaign staffers. We now find ourselves blankly wandering around an office that less than 24 hours earlier barely contained the passion and energy and soul of a campaign at the very peak of its purpose. In one night that thing — that beast that consumed every bit of our lives for what seemed like an eternity — ends.
Now what? Now we polish our resumes, hope for a job with the administration or the congressional office or some action group in need of the unique skills of a campaign hack. Should we succeed in landing one of these jobs we inevitably find the pace boring and begin longing for the daily adrenaline rush of a close race. The bad memories of long nights, yelling bosses or candidates, and the general dysfunction of a campaign begin to fade. We remember the camaraderie, the excitement, and the feeling that what we’re doing on a daily basis helps make the world a better place.
Then maybe, just maybe, we sign up for another campaign.
Colorado Independent’s blogumnist (blogger-columnist) Jeff Bridges has worked in Democratic politics for the last 10 years, serving as communications director for two congressional races in Colorado and two governors races in the Deep South. Bridges also worked as a legislative assistant in Washington, D.C., with a focus on military and small-business issues.